Thursday, July 15, 2010

Abridging

Over the past couple of days I've been working on The Map Reader, a collection of classic cartographic articles.  All the pieces included need to be under 5,000 words in length.  Some of the original articles are 20,000 words long or more so it's an interesting challenge to try and abridge them.  The rule is that text can only be cut and there is no rewriting allowed.  Cutting up to 75% of an article whilst retaining all the central points and the coherence of the argument, and making sure it still remains readable rather than appearing as if its a collection of random snippets, can be quite a puzzle.  That said, when it seems to click you're left wondering why the author originally needed 20,000 words to say what could be said in a quarter of the words.  My conclusion - we need more 'no fat' academic writing!

3 comments:

Margot Kinberg said...

Rob - I agree 100%! You said that very, very well : ).

Bibliophile said...

I heartily agree on leaving out the fat.
During the 7-year gap between getting my B.A. and starting on my M.A. I developed a very "lean" writing style and when I came back to university I spent the first semester being told off by the teachers for not being wordy enough. It was as if saying what needed to be said wasn't enough - they had to have padding and lots of it.

Rob Kitchin said...

Just as there can be too much padding, there's a fine line between lean and over-lean. Over-lean usually comes at the expense of context and comparison. It's getting the balance right that tricky!